From stealing chickens to hiding millions discovered in remote jungles, security forces in Latin America have been involved in a number of high-profile thefts. InSight Crime counts down the top heists committed by police and military in the region.
This examination of security force theft was prompted by recent revelations that 22 police in Honduras stole $1.3 million dollars seized from a drug trafficking family and used the money to pay for prostitutes and buy cars and houses.
Amid widespread food shortages, police in Caracas have been accused of stealing food from Food Ministry trucks. According to one driver responsible for a haul of 100,000 bolivares worth of poultry, the Caracas police stopped him as he was driving through the Venezuelan capital, then stole crates of chicken after he refused to pay a bribe. According to Venezuelan news website La Patilla, the driver filmed the incident, and later said that while he was at the police station, the police boasted that they charge all food distributors fees to move throughout the city and “confiscate” their merchandise if they refuse to comply. The truck driver also said that the Caracas cops claimed they'd pulled over some vegetable sellers so many times they’d driven them to the point of bankruptcy.
At least 14 anti-drug police in Peru -- including the commander of the anti-drug unit in the northern city of Tarapoto -- have been accused of seizing coca base and reselling it to Peruvian and Colombian drug traffickers. Despite the fact that the anti-drug unit was assigned to one of the country’s major coca production areas and had not reported any drug seizures in 2014, senior police officials did not order an investigation until an informant told authorities about what had happened.
In addition to selling coca base, the corrupt cops also allegedly stole money from drug traffickers. On one occasion, police officers allegedly held the owner of a hotel hostage while they searched for two Colombian drug traffickers who were staying at the establishment so they could steal close to $500,000 dollars from them.
In an October 2014 operation that resulted in the arrest of two members of the Valle Valle drug trafficking family in Honduras, police discovered $12.5 million dollars buried in a plastic barrel. The police only reported the seizure of $11.2 million dollars, which were turned over to the agency in charge of seized assets. The 22 police officers then divided the remaining $1.3 million between themselves.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
Some of the police spent their bounty on prostitutes, while others purchased cars and houses. However, they aroused the suspicions of police intelligence agents with their sudden acquisition of luxury goods. They also gave themselves away thanks to Facebook: one of the suddenly-wealthy police officers wrote, "thank you God for this gift and for taking me out of poverty" on his profile wall.
It’s one thing to keep money seized during a police operation, and another to steal shipments of drugs and cash from active criminal groups. Although often carried out by rival drug traffickers, this type of activity -- known as a tumbe -- is sometimes perpetrated by corrupt police officers.
In one such case, a police official in Guatemala allegedly stole a shipment of drugs and money from a criminal group in June 2013. A few days after the tumbe, thirteen hired assassins burst into the local police station and massacred eight police officers who were eating dinner there. The official who allegedly orchestrated the tumbe was taken hostage and pieces of his dismembered body were found a week later. The killings were attributed to Eduardo Francisco Villatoro Cano, alias "Guayo Cano," the owner of the stolen drug shipment, who allegedly had ties to the Zetas.
In 2003, a group of 147 soldiers on a mission to rescue kidnapping victims stumbled across at least $20 million in cash buried in an abandoned Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) camp. There were so many bills in the buried containers that the soldiers used them to make bonfires and bet enormous sums of money on card games to entertain themselves.
SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles
The soldiers used their new-found wealth to buy luxury goods and spend large quantities on prostitutes. Some of the soldiers attracted suspicion by resigning from the military, while others offered over $2,000 to whoever would cover their shifts in the army kitchen. One soldier even used his money to pay for a sex change operation.
The millions attracted unwanted attention from more than just government officials, however. By the time the soldiers were finally sentenced in 2013, at least five had been killed and others had had their family members kidnapped. Only 86 are now serving time in jail, because authorities were unable to locate the remaining 56. The incredible story has served as the basis for a movie (see the trailer below) and a television series.